Tips for safely managing debris after a flood

Hoja informativa: Manejo seguro de los escombros de los edificios dañados por las inundaciones

Many structures and buildings in Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties, including lands of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, suffered significant damage from recent flooding. Debris from damaged structures can pose a threat to people and the environment if not handled safely.

UPDATE: DEQ issued an emergency order that temporarily suspends several environmental rules and fees to expedite the cleanup of flood debris and ensure ongoing protection of people and the environment. View the full emergency order here.

Tips for safely handling renovation and demolition debris:

  • Use caution when working in or around any damaged building.
  • Keep children and pets away from debris, where they could be exposed to sharp objects, electric shock or hazardous material, including asbestos.
  • Always wear personal protective gear and clothing, including eye protection, gloves and boots.
  • Check with your insurance company before removing debris. The insurance company may be able to assist.

Disposing of waste

Disposal sites that are willing to accept flood debris but that cannot accept asbestos-containing materials are:

  • Umatilla County: Humbert Landfill, Pendleton Transfer Station and Hermiston Transfer Station.
  • Milton-Freewater:  Milton-Freewater Landfill.
  • Union County: Transfer stations in Union, La Grande and Elgin.
  • Wallowa County: Ant Flat Landfill, transfer stations in Joseph, Lostine and Wallowa.

Other regional landfills that can accept asbestos containing materials are: Finley Buttes Landfill in Morrow County; Columbia Ridge and Chemical Waste Management of the Northwest  landfills in Gilliam County (accepts household hazardous waste); Walla Walla Landfill.


Asbestos is in many building materials, and it is difficult to determine which ones. When asbestos is disturbed and improperly handled, tiny fibers are released into the air and may cause lung cancer and other illnesses. Paper masks and bandanas do not filter out asbestos fibers.

Consult with a licensed asbestos removal contractor or call a DEQ asbestos expert at one of the numbers below before disturbing materials that may contain asbestos. Find more info about safe asbestos removal one DEQ’s website.

Mold and indoor air quality

Flood water can make the air in your home unhealthy. This is because when things remain wet for more than two days, they usually get moldy. Inhaling mold can cause adverse health effects, including allergic reactions. Mold also can damage materials in your home. In addition, flood water may contain microorganisms, such as bacteria, or chemicals which may affect your health. (Info from the U.S. EPA.)

Septic systems

U.S. EPA has helpful information on what to do with your septic system after a flood.

Burning of materials

Check with the local fire department before conducting any open burning of construction materials. It is illegal to burn treated wood, asbestos, petroleum-based products, or anything that emits dense or noxious smoke.

Hazardous materials in the environment

If you encounter hazardous materials that may have been released into the environment during the flooding, immediately report the spill or release to the Oregon Emergency Response System (OERS) at 800-452-0311. These items could include labeled or unlabeled barrels or containers of pesticides, fertilizers, oil or other petroleum products. DEQ recommends not handling or attempting to dispose of these items on your own.

Household hazardous waste

Many homes contain small quantities of hazardous waste, including paints, stains, solvents, fuels, antifreeze, aerosols, cleaners, poisons, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, oil filters, rechargeable batteries, fluorescent tubes and bulbs, propane tanks, pool and spa chemicals, thermometers, and mercury thermostats and switches. Please follow all local, state, federal and tribal regulations.

Contact your local waste management company or the department responsible for waste collection in your area for information on household hazardous waste. DEQ is working with local providers and volunteer organizations to schedule special hazardous waste collection events in the counties affected by the floods, contact DEQ for more information.

Drinking water wells

The Oregon Health Authority has information on drinking water safety after a flood.

Recycle when possible

Many buildings are constructed of metal, wood, brick and cinder block. These materials have the potential to be separated for reuse or recycling.


  • Asbestos: Tom Hack, 541-278-4626, or Frank Messina, 541-633-2019
  • Solid waste: Eric Clanton, 541-298-7255 x233
  • Hazardous waste: Brian Allen, 541-633-2014

Additional resources

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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